[KS] Names for God

Clark W Sorensen sangok at u.washington.edu
Wed Jul 30 12:49:03 EDT 2008

I would just like to add some philological context to Don's discussion of the term yo^rae. I agree with Don that for lay Buddhists, the worship of "So^kkamoni Yo^rae isn't much different from worshipping a theistic deity. However the term yo^rae itself is the Chinese translation (pronounced rulai) of the Sanskrit term tathaagata, a term that means "he who has thus come" (which is more or less what the Chinese characters mean ("as come")). In Buddhist texts it is an honorific term for the Buddha, much as Lord can be an honorific term for Jesus, and it does not imply a theistic interpretation. A similar point could be made for the term "sejon" which is also used by lay Buddhists as if referring to a theistic deity. This term "honored by the world" is also an epithet for the Buddha in scriptures that in the scriptures themselves does not imply a theistic being. However, it is also true that some 
forms of medieval Buddhism were highly influenced by Hinduism and made use of much of the Hindu theistic pantheon. The name of the Korean folk deity "cheso^k", for example, is actually derived from an honorific term for Indra.

Clark Sorensen

On Wed, 30 Jul 2008, Donald Baker wrote:

> A few comments on the responses to the question about the Korean name for "God" 
> in Korean.
> First of all, I was glad to see Brother Anthony's post that mentions that there 
> are Buddhas who appear very close to being the type of God seen in theistic 
> religions.  In discussing Buddhism, we have to be careful to distinguish 
> between the philosophy of most meditating monks (which tends to downplay 
> theistic elements in Buddhism) versus the practices and beliefs of most lay 
> Buddhists. (For more on this distinction, see my recent Korean Spirituality.) 
> I would argue that most lay Buddhists treat the various Buddhas (and even some 
> of the Boddhisattvas) as Gods.  When you affix yeorae to a Buddha's name, such 
> as Yaksayeorae, it seems to me that you are talking about a God. Sakyamuni is 
> simply Sakyamuni or Bucheonim, so Sakaymuni as a teacher is not seen as a God. 
> But when you talk about Vairochana, for example, you are talking about a God. 
> Yet no pre-modern Korean Buddhist texts that I know of ever refer to any of 
> those god-like Buddhas as hananim or haneunim. That suggests to me not that 
> theism was not a part of Korean Buddhism but that before the arrival of 
> Christianity Koreans did not think of the term haneunim or the term hananim as 
> meaning "God."
> In response to some of the other posts, I looked at the suggested download, 
> "Modern History of Korean Religions. " It provides the standard argument that 
> Koreans have a long history of worship of Hananim. However, I find no evidence 
> in any Korean records for such a religious tradition. More to the point, the 
> first Catholics in Korea didn't use Hananim or Haneunim in their early 
> vernacular theological texts, so it would appear that they were not very 
> familiar with that term. In fact, neither term shows up in the first Korean 
> dictionary, a dictionary French missionaries compiled in the middle of the 19th 
> century. If there was a common vernacular word for God, you would think they 
> would have listed it in their dictionary.
> As for Donghak, a look at early Tonghak writings shows that the preferred term 
> for God was Cheonju or Sangje. When Tonghak poetry required three syllables, 
> and they wanted to use a vernacular term rather than a Sino-Korean term, they 
> used "Hannulim." If Hananim or Haneunim  were common terms for God, why didn't 
> they use one of those terms instead of coining Hannulim (which was not that 
> common in Tonghak writings until the 20th century)?
> I might add that my dictionaries of Joseon-era language (based on 19th century 
> Korean) clearly distinguish between Hana (one) from Haneul (for Heaven). I am 
> out of town right now, and don't have my dictionaries in front of me, but, if 
> my memory serves me right, hana was spelling with the arae-a in the first 
> syllable and haneul was spelled with the arae-a in the second syllable. 
> Moreover, the early Protestant missionary discussions on the proper term for 
> God show that they distinguished between Haneunim as a vernacular translation 
> of Lord of Heaven and Hananim, which most of them took to mean the One God and 
> therefore different from Haneunim. In fact, this is why more conservative 
> Protestants prefer Hananim to Haneunim. They consider Haneunim to be a 
> reference to a god of Korea's traditional animistic worship of nature. Hananim, 
> on the other hand, they believed to be a traditional term for the Supreme 
> Being, who transcended nature.
> As for shamans using haneunim in their rituals, I suspect that is a modern 
> innovation. (I've seen a recent shaman "bible" that includes references to 
> Hananim.) If Joseon dynasty officials had learned that shamans were worshipping 
> heaven, they would have been even more antagonistic toward shamanism than they 
> already were. As for as I know, the charge that they worshipped hananin or 
> haneunim was never made, though they were criticized for many other reasons, 
> including the criticism that they engaged with ritual interaction with the 
> spirits of deceased officials they were too low in the social order to interact 
> with. Also, shamans usually have paintings of their gods. Has anyone ever seen 
> a shaman painting of hananim? I've seen paintings of the Jade Emperor but not 
> of Hananim or Haneuni.
> Even though there are a few rare cases of pre-modern use of the term "haneunim" 
> (as in Pak Il-lo's poem mentioned by Gari), they are usually synonyms for the 
> Chinese Confucian term for Heaven and don't carry the usual theistic 
> connotations we associate with the term "God."
> In short, I remain convinced that the tradition of an indigenous Korean 
> monotheism, of worship of a Supreme God called Hananim or Haneunim,  is an 
> invented tradition. Moreover, as a proud Canadian, I am convinced that the 
> Canadian missionary James Gale played a major role in creating that tradition.
> Donald Baker
> Department of Asian Studies
> University of British Columbia
> Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2  Canada
> dbaker at interchange.ubc.ca
> Donald Baker
> Department of Asian Studies
> University of British Columbia
> Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2  Canada
> dbaker at interchange.ubc.ca

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